Reviving the traditional art of garlic braiding
Written by Heidi Bethel
Walk into nearly any old-school Italian joint and you’ll likely find beautiful braids of garlic adorning the walls. While they are an artful nod to one of the key ingredients in many great dishes, garlic braids serve more than just an aesthetic purpose. Local farmers are busy this time of year crisscrossing long stalks they’ve grown since last fall.
Preserving the Aromatics
Traditionally, garlic braiding has been used to keep garlic fresh longer. With the increased air circulation provided, the shelf life of braided garlic is stretched two to three times that of cloves stored in mesh bags or thrown in a container somewhere in the kitchen.
About three years ago, Christine Rosakranse, co-owner of Bee Here Now Farm in Wadsworth, started garlic braiding after seeing a big demand at the annual Reno Garlic Festival.
“These are beautiful, heirloom creations that you can’t buy at the store,” she notes. “They are a great way to enjoy garlic well into the winter months since some varieties will last up to nine months. You don’t have to worry about funky mold or mildew, or those little black bits that mean it’s gone bad.
“The braids also put off a wonderful smell for anyone really into garlic,” she adds. “They give off the garlicky aroma for months.”
Garlic braids created by Christine Rosakranse at Bee Here Now Farm
Pretty Up a Corner
The technique for garlic braiding can be as simple as a three-section braid typical of little girls’ pigtails or as exquisite as the intricate designs used to lace the dough for challah bread. It’s really up to the braider.
“People can put a lot of work into their pattern or just keep it straightforward,” Rosakranse says. “It’s definitely one of those things that’s a nice, homey look. It’s like when you have a really pretty candle that you never burn, you end up with this beautiful piece of art that adds to your home.”
She goes on to explain that if folks plan to eat the garlic bulbs, it’s important that they are stored correctly … even hanging on the wall. “You’re supposed to keep them somewhere relatively dry and out of the sun. They can really brighten a dark spot in your kitchen without affecting the flavor of the garlic.”
Try Your Hand
For those who want to take up garlic braiding, Rosakranse suggests growing the garlic themselves. She typically plants the bulbs in the fall, garnering longer stalks for braiding in the early summer months. Then she urges braiders to watch videos on YouTube.
Garlic growing at Bee Here Now Farm. Photo by Nick Hill
The fourth annual Reno Garlic Festival that was originally scheduled for July 25 has been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. However, event organizers have converted the event to a year-long opportunity for education and inspiration, including the “A Year in Garlic” course that provides insights on growing garlic locally, as well as promotions for free garlic seed. Follow news about the event at https://www.renofoodsystems.org/garlicfest.
Meanwhile, pick up some local garlic at your area farmers’ markets. As Rosakranse says, “They’re a great way to support local farmers and have a nice, usable piece of art in your home for months to come.”
During her youth, Heidi Bethel had a neighbor who absolutely loved garlic and would proudly hang her homegrown braids throughout her kitchen and living room. Bethel remembers the vivid essence of garlic before you even entered the front door.